We continue with our look at well-known Christmas hymns this week with O Holy Night. This is by far my favorite Christmas carol/hymn, even before I knew its history.
Brief History via beliefnet.com:
O Holy Night was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, in a small town in France. Although a wine commissionaire, Placide Cappeau was also known for his dabblings in poetry. The local priest requested he write a poem for Christmas mass. Reflecting upon the nativity story found in the Gospel of Luke, and imagining what it would’ve been like to witness the events of that evening, he penned O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel). Feeling it was “more than a poem”, Cappeau requested the musical services of a friend. Adolphe Adams, a Jew, set the poem to music. It was performed during the Christmas Eve midnight mass just three weeks later.
The hymn was an instant success throughout all of France. However, when Cappeau later left the church and became a socialist, and word spread that Adams was a Jew, the church denounced the hymn and declared it unfit. Lay people across France continued to sing it, however, and the hymn was not lost.
American writer John Sullivan Dwight brought it to America, having a special affinity for the third verse. The hymn became popular in America, particularly the North, for the same reasons Dwight favored it. Then on Christmas Eve 1906, something miraculous happened (or so many thought at the time). Reginald Fessenden picked up a microphone, and with the help of a new type of generator spoke into the air waves. He recited Luke chapter 2, the Christmas story. As you can imagine, radio operators on ships as well as wireless operators at newspapers, thought they were hearing the voice of an angel, or at the very least witnessing a miracle! Never before had a man’s voice been transmitted in such a way. When he finished his recitation, Fessenden picked up his violin and played O Holy Night. Thus, this beloved hymn was the first song ever sent via radio waves. Pretty cool, huh?
Now for the lyrics, with the third verse which attracted the attention of American abolitionists, in bold. (namethathymn.com)
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night, O holy night, O night Divine!
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
Below is Michael Crawford singing with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Crawford is among the purest male voices I’ve ever heard, tying with Andrea Bocelli, in my humble opinion. I do not know if I’ve mentioned it, but we are an a capella church. We are not “against” instruments, in fact, we have someone accompany a guest singer on acoustic guitar on occasion. We prefer the human voice as the instrument of choice. My point is, there are some voices so beautiful that they bring me to tears every time I hear them. Crawford and Bocelli’s are two of them. They say there will be no tears in heaven and that will indeed be a miracle because if men can sing so divinely here on Earth, I can only imagine my inclination to bawl every time I hear the heavenly chorus!